Wednesday, August 03, 2016
10 lessons from 10 years of parenting
A beautiful baby boy came into the world, we named him River and he continues to delight and intrigue us, to challenge us and indirectly call us to be better versions of ourselves.
Decade birthdays feel like milestones more than the others, even River said on his tenth birthday, "Mum, you know how people ask if you feel different when you turn a year older? Well usually I don't but this year I do".
There is no one handbook for parenting that has all the answers. Although, I do love the series of books by Sarah Napthali
The work of raising children is more complex than what can be found in a book. You see, the challenge and joy in parenting is that each soul has its own purpose to fullfil, its own karmic journey.
Yes I believe in the woo woo, the wider cosmic story that takes us down paths we sometimes don't know why we're following. I believe it is this bigger story, the unfinished business from previous generations that comes through in our DNA that adds to the variables of what 'works' with one child and not with the other.
I don't have all the answers but I thought from my ten years of parenting I'd share some of what I've learnt so far:
1. Honour the soul of the individual child. This is how I parent. Yes I know that sounds woo woo too but there you go. This by no means means I make excuses or allowances for my boys in some hippy trippy kind of way it means I notice the differences in my kids and parent them accordingly. My two sons have different personalities, different interests, different strengths and weaknesses, different lessons to learn in this life and I aim to honor these differences in the way I parent. This means noticing what they're interested in and supporting and encouraging them to pursue those interests and talents, even when they're resistant. And it means setting boundaries and expectations to help them overcome what I can see is challenging for them.
2. Teach your child responsibility from a young age. There's no point waiting until your child becomes a teenager and then expecting them to instantly be responsible and start picking up after themselves. Start early. I know it feels easier and quicker to do things yourself but it doesn't help anyone in the long run, not you, not your child, not their future boss or future partner.
3. Say yes. I learnt this one from a dear friend who is a wise mother of four and grandmother of four. When your child asks you to play with them, forget the dishes and play with them. The childhood years are fleeting. There will come a day where they won't want to kick a ball with you, draw pictures with you, play monopoly with you (no not monopoly! anything but monopoly!) Play. Good for you, good for them. Watch how happy it makes them. But more than that it is a case of actions speak louder than words, you are showing your child you love them and are interested in what they're doing rather than just telling them.
4. Don't hide behind your children. It took me a while to realise this, sometimes I was using my children as an excuse for not doing things personally and professionally. Ouch! That was hard to admit. There were things that I would put off under the guise of 'my children need me' when really my children will always need me in one form or another so if there are things I want or need to do for myself then it is a matter of making it happen. The making it happen part can be tricky if you are one like me who struggles to ask for help or let someone else take over for a while. Keep it in mind.
5. Practice communicating clearly and openly with your partner about parenting. What happens when one parent is cool with video games and the other isn't? Eating junk food? Watching tv everyday? Smacking? Time out? Being on a different page from your partner about how to raise your children can be the source of so much tension. And the problem is these are not really things most people discuss until they are on the job and the children are in front of them! The only way to deal with this is directly and honestly - but not in the heat of the moment. Over a cup of tea, a glass of wine, take a walk together, talking things through when you're both relaxed is the ideal way. And if it is really tough for you to work this out together then consider talking with a counsellor together. It is really important to get this right because mixed messages to your children doesn't help them.
6. Make it a priority to keep your own cup full. I have a friend who schedules in massages and facials into her diary like she does a dentist appointment. She doesn't feel guilty for making time for herself. At this stage my finances don't allow for monthly massages and facials but a walk on the beach is free, a cup of coffee is cheap, time with girlfriends is priceless. Making time to hear your own thoughts and re-connect with who you are is actually vital to the health, happiness and well-being of your whole family.
7. Nurture self-esteem. With both of my children in school now I've come to realise that nurturing their self-esteem is really the best thing we can do as parents to help see them through life's storms and joys. And one of the best ways to do this is to provide them with opportunities to find out what they're good at or what they enjoy and encourage them. I witnessed this when my youngest son started playing tennis, it came easily to him, he walked taller because of it. Jobs around the house play an important role in this too believe it or not. Having a sense of belonging and purpose is important for well-being, by giving our children responsibilities around the house we are giving them the opportunity to feel a sense of belonging, that they are valued, that what they contribute matters and in turn an opportunity to feel good about themselves. You can read more about self-esteem here.
8. Get to know your children's friends and their parents. Socialisation is a huge part of parenting. Teaching your children how to be in social situations through leading by example is something I think is important. Having their friends over, having your friends over are great opportunities to teach your kids about how to communicate and how to be a good friend. Socialising doesn't come naturally and easily to everyone, parents included! But I think it is a really important part of life and something to share with our children. By having your children's friends in your house from a young age I believe you are setting up open lines of communication that will help you through the teenage years. Which leads me to my next point...
9. Each stage prepares you for the next stage. I remember talking to a mum of grown up sons asking her secret for surviving the teenage years and her answer brought me so much relief 'each stage prepares you for the next stage' and how true it is. Now that my boys are in primary school, those new born days are but a memory. The challenges of surviving on little to no sleep, daytime naps, introducing solid food, things that consumed my days and thoughts are over and we have slipped into the next stage, almost without noticing and we are dancing and weaving our way through this stage as we will with all the rest ahead.
10. Enjoy your children. I've saved the best til last. In the midst of family life it can be all too easy to forget to enjoy our time together. Each age and stage bring challenges but it is so important to enjoy this precious time.
This turned out to be much longer than I thought. I hope there's something useful in there for you!
I'd love to hear your take on raising children.